A Must-Do Stop-Off on a Road Trip.
Mardi Gras is known as the greatest free show on earth and this year the parades and fun start on January 19 th, culminating in Mardi Gras on February 12 th. Mardi Gras means ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French and falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, or Shrove Tuesday as we know it. Whilst here in the UK we have our annual indulgence of pancakes and lemons/oranges or whatever your preferred topping is, in New Orleans they are enjoying Marching bands, parades and floats! Far from the boozy, lewd scenes in Bourbon Street often seen on news reports and on the internet of events after the parades, Mardi Gras is a family-friendly celebration that takes place all over New Orleans, outside of the French Quarter.
Each parade is arranged by Krewes, which fund and produce their own event, and usually feature lots of ‘throws’, like colourful beads, doubloons and soft toys for the children. The tradition of throwing beads began over 100 years ago when it is rumoured that a man dressed as Santa Clause began throwing colourful glass beads from his float and this proved really popular. The colours of Mardi Gras are purple, green and gold. The purple represents Justice, the green represents Faith and the gold represents Power. Most people wear these colours, and then on Mardi Gras itself, costumes are the order of the day with everyone dressing up in everything from masks to full on fancy dress.
Families take chairs or blankets and their pet dogs (there is even a parade for dogs: the Krewe of Barcus), find some space and wait for the fun to start. Street vendors provide plenty of food and drinks. A tip for those seeking the ‘throws’ is to head to the end of the parade where the throwers will be unloading all of their ‘throws’ before they finish!
The parades in New Orleans take a break from January 28 th to Feb 5 th for the Super Bowl and then resume. Hotels get booked out early, and the event peaks from the 9 th – 12 th so if you are planning on stopping off from a road trip you should get something booked in advance. If you haven’t yet booked a rental car and want to fly in, we have locations to collect your US car hire from New Orleans airport or downtown at 1317 Canal Street.
New Orleans is a vibrant place to visit any time of year and has several museums featuring past floats, costumes and in-depth histories of Mardi Gras, so if you can’t get there for Carnival (the season from Epiphany or twelfth night through to Ash Wednesday), you can still get a idea of the action. Of course, regardless of when you are there you must sample some cajun food and take in some beautiful jazz from the city that brought this music to the world.